Ask Vero Beach’s Richard “Dick” Ferry how and why he got into running and sit back, pour a glass of red wine – more on this later – and relax because it will take a while.
A lawyer, two-time Purple Heart recipient, veteran of some of the worst of the Korean War, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and president of Indian Harbour Beach’s Valjean Corporation, Ferry got into running as a means to an end.
And while he readily admits that he participates more than he competes at age 84 he still manages to reap more than he sows.
He won his age group in the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) Distance Medley for the second straight time and is defending age group champion in the Running Zone Foundation Race Series.
The Distance Medley is a three-race series which combines the B.A.A. 5K (Boston Marathon Weekend), the B.A.A. 10K (late June), and the B.A.A. Half Marathon, presented by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund (Columbus Day Weekend).
His aggregate time was 5 hours, 35 minutes and 23 seconds, combining a 42:22 5K, where he finished 3,506th, a 1:29:34 10K good for 2,713th and a 3:23:27half-marathon good for 2,808th.
That Ferry got into running at all was a result of pursuing a business opportunity in November of 2011 at the age of 80.
Let him explain.
“I had a reason to want to get some business information on the organic source of a fragrance oil reputed to be of Cuban origin,” Ferry said. “Being a law abiding citizen, and specifically being a Marine Corps veteran, I knew it would be foolhardy to skirt the laws by entering Cuba through Mexico or the Bahamas and possibly paying the consequences.
“It came to my attention at a bar in Los Angeles that the U.S. State Department had relaxed the rules on cultural exchange programs to allow, not visas, but letters of departure and re-entry, to marathoners wishing to enter the 25th Anniversary of the Havana Marathon. Although I had never run a 10-yard dash, I thought I would give it a shot.
“I didn’t have any running shoes or fancy shorts, but I had sneakers and trunks so I thought I would give it a shot. When I got to Havana on a charter flight from Miami with 20 legitimate runners, I found we were restricted to a small bus with a translator/guide and had no real freedom of movement. I was assigned a seat next to a lovely Thai/American women who, I was shocked to learn had run in a dozen countries including 100 milers. She was 64.
“When she realized that her seatmate had never run any kind of a race before, she was shocked. She took it upon herself to ask our guide if there were any other distances available. When he said there was a 5K, we were able to negotiate a change in bib for me to a comfortable 5K which I finished in not too bad a time.”
Those were the first steps in Ferry’s relationship with running and led to 5, 10, 15Ks, a 10-miler, and half marathons in Vero Beach and Melbourne plus Thailand, Greece, Tucson, Boston, Virginia Beach, the Marine Corps 17.75K at Quantico, Va. and the Marine Corps Half in Fredericksburg, Va., the Runners World Half in Bethlehem, Pa. and more.
“I try to participate in something every week, somewhere,” Ferry said. “Please notice that I don’t say run. That would really be stretching it.”
As for his awards: “At 84 being an award winner is the greatest scam in the world,” Ferry joked. “While finishing might be impressive, when awards are restricted to five-year age groups, being 84 is a no brainer. Imagine if my golf handicap were my age, I’d be on top of the PGA.”
Ferry is a Boston native who joined Marines in 1949 and is a veteran of the Inchon invasion and capture of Seoul, and a survivor of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.
He left the Marines in 1964 and earned a law degree from American University in Washington. D.C. He previously owned inns in Martha’s Vineyard and North Conway, N. H. before joining the Valjean Corporation where he earned a seat on the board and eventually became president.
His wife Barbara of 54 years, died in 2008. Their union produced six children, 13 grand children, and four great grandchildren.
He lives a good life.
“I stopped drinking hard liquor and smoking many years ago, Ferry said. “But I make sure I have an ample supply of red wine everywhere I go.”
By the way while Ferry didn’t get the fragrance he was looking for in Cuba – he found it in New Zealand – but he laid the foundation for a late-in-life running career that shows no signs of abating.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed.
“We all think he is amazing,” said Running Zone co-owner and race director Denise Piercy. “He keeps on ticking. We all hope to be just like him at his age.”